Cow graphics

On a Saturday morning at the Wayne County fairgrounds, a herd of cows over 100 years in the making was split up and sold to the highest bidder.

The WVU Ayrshire dairy herd was sold for a total of $17,800 at the Ohio All Breeds Fall Dairy Sale on Nov. 23. Each cow was sold for between $600 to $2,600, and both of the highest selling cows at the auction came from the WVU dairy farm. The average selling price for an Ayershire at this auction was $1,271.

The auction house took a 13% commission from each sale and charged a flat transfer rate of $15 per cow. After these deductions, WVU made a $15,276 profit from the Ohio auction.

Out of the 14 cows sold at the auction, three cows and one bull calf were purebred Ayrshires. The other ten were between 86% and 99% Ayrshire, a product of intensive and careful breeding by the WVU dairy farm for the century. An earlier DA story reported that WVU’s Ayrshire herd was the oldest dairy herd at any college in the U.S.

In October, a second herd of 37 Holstein dairy cows was sold to Coons Livestock for $26,400, to be sold again to other dairies. The average selling price for this herd was $700 per heifer. 

The WVU dairy herd stands out in the pasture.

The WVU dairy herd stands out in the pasture.

Seven more Holstein cows were sold at the Pennsylvania Livestock Auction in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, for which WVU received $4,036. The average selling price for WVU’s cows at this auction was $576.

In total, WVU made $45,712 from the sale of a total of 58 cows. The University estimated that the cows cost WVU $250,000 a year to maintain, but generate only $100,000 annually. On average, each cow cost the University $4,300 per year and brought in about $800 at sale.

The Daily Athenaeum submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain the sale information. 

Matt Wilson, Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design associate dean of programs, said the decision was made in part because the barn that housed the herd for decades fell to termite damage. The estimated cost of a new barn was between $500,000 and $700,000.

“We prefer to sell our livestock at public auctions in order to be open as possible with what we’re doing, even if we don’t always get the best price that way,” Wilson said. “As a teaching and research laboratory, the dairy was a particular [financial] loss to the college. That money will now go to support other activities on the farm.”

Dairy Heifer Management, the animal sciences course that was taught with calves bred at the farm, will now be taught with calves the University purchases each semester. The class is being taught this spring and will be offered as often as it was in the past, Wilson said.

Some students are still dissatisfied with the University’s solutions. Naomi Clutter, an Agricultural and Extension Education student and WVU Student Government Association senator, plans to write an SGA resolution asking for a better explanation as to why the University sold the herd and what will be done in the future to improve the conditions of the WVU Animal Husbandry Farm.

dairy cows

A WVU cow.

“Dairy was what made me find my passion — I did dairy cattle showing in 4-H, and I came here because I knew they had the dairy herd,” she said. “So it really sucked when they got rid of them.”

Clutter said she felt like the administration didn’t entertain any solutions that wouldn’t have involved selling the herd, despite student objections.

“I knew from the second I stepped into the second meeting [with the administrators from the Davis College] that we were going to lose the herd,” Clutter said. “They weren’t for our interests.”

Many years ago, the milk that the dairy herd produced was used by WVU dining services and ice cream produced at the dairy was sold at the dorms and the Mountainlair. Ultimately, it was more economically efficient to outsource the dining contract and sell the dairy’s milk.

Although there are no immediate plans for the land where the dairy operated, Wilson said it will be directed to other farm projects, including a poultry operation, sheep, beef cattle, service dog kennel, apple orchard and growing crops. 

“It’s difficult to say that we have vacant space now that the dairy herd isn’t utilizing it,” Wilson said. “We will certainly be using that land differently, but there is still very much an active farm.”